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City wants to put Civic Center Hotel TIF back before voters


Plans to put a hotel at the Lake Charles Civic Center and turn it into a true convention center are still alive, but the means to finance it will have to go back before voters.

In April, 54 percent of voters rejected a referendum to take tax dollars generated by the proposed hotel to finance the project. Lake Charles city officials said the item failed because of low voter turnout and believe it deserves one last shot.

"Because of the significance and the importance of this project ... Not just from the standpoint of the Civic Center and the extra utilization, but the impact that this type of project would have for the entire downtown area," said Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach.

Lake Charles is the fifth largest city in the state and the only larger city to not have a full-service hotel in its downtown area.

Roach explained to the Lake Charles Downtown Development Authority how the so-called Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district works. Roach said it would utilize the additional state and local sales tax revenue generated by the proposed hotel to help finance the project and would in no way be an additional tax to residents.

"Only the people that use the hotel will pay the tax. None of the citizens of Lake Charles will pay any taxes or additional taxes - that's very important that we get this over to the people," said Charles Honore, Lake Charles Downtown Development Authority.

Similar TIF districts have worked in Baton Rouge, helping finance two luxury properties: The Renaissance Marriott Hotel and the Hilton Capitol Center.

PKF, a Houston-based hotel consulting firm, said that based on the current activity at the Civic Center, it could support a 150-room hotel. Company HRI is interested in developing such a property on the site.

Artist renderings show how a proposed hotel of that size could open opportunities for the Civic Center to host full scale conventions. However, opponents say it will take away already limited parking. Roach said a percentage of the TIF would be used for public improvements.

"Parking garages are not cheap and they cost a little bit of money to build, but they are very efficient and are utilized in other areas to deal with these kinds of issues, these kinds of challenges for development," said Roach. "There's enough property for a number of options. A parking garage could actually make access to the Civic Center easier. Not only would it be covered but it would have covered walkways. We may have to pay for parking, but most city's and convention centers have a fee for parking garages." 

While the mayor said the TIF district won't necessarily make or break the project, he believes it's the key to unlocking the potential of what could come.

"If we get a strong voter turnout and if the vote is no ... I think we are going to have to move on at least for the time being and go with whatever else we can do in terms of development," said Roach. "But this could really change things for downtown and generate new traffic along the lakefront."

Roach said in order to get their message to voters, the city will work with the DDA to develop a master plan to present to voters and hold meetings for public feedback. That master plan would include the location of the hotel and parking garage.

The earliest the item would be placed on the ballot is in May and the latest in November. The Lake Charles City Council would have to approve putting the item back on the ballot.

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